2022 Empowerment Celebration
2022 Empowerment Award Winner: Senate President Karen E. Spilka
Through hard work, a keen ability to navigate complex issues, and a demonstrated commitment to advocating for her constituents, Senate President Karen E. Spilka has established herself as a respected leader in state government.
Representing the MetroWest communities of the 2nd Middlesex & Norfolk district—comprised of Ashland, Framingham, Franklin, Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway and Natick—Senate President Spilka is dedicated to the advancement of progressive social causes and a pragmatic fiscal policy of balancing investments in education, infrastructure, and economic opportunity with saving for the future. She has championed issues such as mental health, juvenile justice and services for the elderly and disabled communities. During her career, Senate President Spilka has been a social worker, small business owner and attorney, and she went on to become one of the first legislators in the nation to vote in favor of marriage equality and transgender protections.
Karen Spilka’s tenure as Senate President has included the legislature’s response to the COVID-19 public health crisis. As a part of this response, the Senate President pursued the passage of Patients First legislation, which eliminated barriers to care and advanced support for community hospitals, COVID testing sites, medical staff and telehealth services. Despite a crisis that resulted in budget cuts throughout much of the country, Senate President Spilka’s leadership in establishing one of the most robust Rainy-Day funds in the country allowed Massachusetts to not only avoid cuts to social safety nets, but rather expand support for housing stability, food security, unemployment benefits and relief for the hospitality and restaurant industries.
Senate President Spilka’s first priority as Senate President was the passage of the Student Opportunity Act (SOA), the culmination of a twenty-year effort which combined the largest increase in education funding in Massachusetts’ history with changes to make future education funding more equitable. In the wake of protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd, she led the effort to pass one of the most comprehensive and intentional police reform bills in the United States, including the creation of a first-in-the-nation civilian-led commission with the power to independently investigate police actions. In response to the threat posed by climate change, she supported a law which provided a timeline for a complete transition away from fossil fuels and toward a carbon-neutral economy and which codified the concept of environmental justice into law.
Most recently, Senate President Spilka has led a number of efforts to decrease the barriers to accessing quality mental health care, including directing state funding towards public awareness of mental and behavioral health, as well as to increasing the mental health workforce pipeline. She has also introduced the concept of Intergenerational Care Centers as a way to address the caregiving crisis in Massachusetts, provide support for women in the workforce, and encourage high quality caregiving for all residents, from infants to elders.
Senate President Spilka is a graduate of Northeastern Law School and holds a B.S. in Social Work from Cornell University. She has been married for over thirty years to Joel S. Loitherstein, an environmental engineer, and has three adult children, Heather, Scott and Jake, and two rescue dogs, Lincoln and Mikasa.
On Tuesday, July 28, 2020, the Massachusetts State Senate passed legislation which removes existing barriers for students with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities so they can attend public institutions of higher education. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, honors the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law 30 years ago this week by President George H.W. Bush.
Under An Act Creating Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, students would not be required to pass the MCAS, have a high school diploma, meet minimum requirements for academic courses, or take college entrance exams in order to access inclusive academic, social, and career development opportunities on college campuses with their peers. In addition, the bill also makes clear that strengthening access to higher education for students with disabilities is a goal of the Commonwealth's higher education system.
“We have made great strides in Massachusetts to provide inclusive opportunities for persons with disabilities, but there is always more work to be done,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I appreciate the overwhelming support for advancing this bill and look forward to seeing it make its way through the legislative process. I would like to thank Senators Rodrigues, Lovely and Gobi for their attention to this important issue.”
Empowerment Award: On Award “For your lifelong dedication and commitment to working tirelessly to ensure equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities to LIVE, LEARN, WORK & PLAY